By Daaron Dohler, Operations Lead, R&D Strategic and Professional Affairs, Takeda Pharmaceuticals


Teaching in the high school classroom is rapidly evolving as teachers embrace new technology and students gain access to information from around the globe. The Illinois Science & Technology Institute is helping teachers and students go even further by providing an opportunity to tackle real world problems. The STEM Challenge matches high school students with corporations and universities across Illinois to work on 6-month projects that can span a diverse range of topics from renewable energy to healthcare innovations to sensor technology and defense. In 2015-16, students worked with AbbVie Foundation, Argonne National Laboratory, Baxter International Inc., Illinois State University’s Center for Renewable Energy, Microsoft, Motorola Mobility, Motorola Solutions, Northrop Grumman, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, and TGG Group.


As the R&D STEM Challenge project coordinator for Takeda Pharmaceuticals in Deerfield, Ill., I’ve had the privilege of working with the students, teachers, ISTI staff, and Takeda mentors to come together and take the challenge. This year Takeda worked with three schools in the Chicago area; Evanston Township High School, Maine South High School, and Oak Park River Forest High School. Eight volunteer mentors from Takeda worked with the students to answer questions, provide feedback, and help guide the students through the challenge.

This year’s challenge from Takeda focused on medication adherence in two different therapeutic areas – depression and diabetes. Up to 50% of patients do not take their medications as prescribed, and there can be many different factors driving this. Throughout the course of the 6-month journey, the students, teachers and mentors collaborated face-to-face and via technology to research the problem, brainstorm ideas, refine solutions, and ultimately develop a final recommendation.

One team of students designed a lifestyle mobile app for young adult patients with depression that focuses on the “whole person” through medication monitoring and daily journaling. Another team developed a tool for elderly patients to enhance communication with their pharmacist and increase understanding of their medication. On the diabetes front, one group of students developed the framework for a wellness-focused app that provides recipes, exercise ideas, and a prescription pick up calendar (among other features) for Type 2 diabetes patients. The students presented those final recommendations in May in front of an audience of nearly 300, comprised of industry leaders, government officials, and their peers from across the state. The event was a great way to reward the students for their hard work and dedication throughout the year.

Another highlight of the year was a ‘Day @ Takeda’ when students from all three high schools visited Takeda’s offices in Deerfield. Each team met with their mentors to review the status of their projects. The students also received a tour of the Takeda facility including the security command center that monitors Takeda’s facilities around the world. Finally, the students participated in a “career fair” with a dozen Takeda employees who explained their own educational and professional backgrounds. This event offered students insights into the wide variety of careers that are available at a global pharmaceutical company and the various paths they could pursue as they move beyond high school.



Clockwise from top: Students from Maine South High School and Oak Park and River Forest High School present their solutions to the audience and Takeda Pharmaceuticals’ Daaron Dohler; the audience applauds at the end of a presentation, Evanston Township High School team poses for a photograph on stage. Click on the photo for an enlarged image.


This type of problem-based learning provides tremendous benefits for both students and mentors. The students gain experience in tackling real world problems that don’t have a single right answer. They learn the importance of overcoming barriers and finding new solutions when initial ideas are not viable. They also develop softer skills in areas like team work, public speaking, and persuasive communication. As for the mentors, this is an opportunity to give back and share their own experience with the students. It also provides an opportunity to tap into the students’ creativity and enthusiasm.

Our Takeda mentors truly looked forward to their updates with the students to see what new ideas they thought of. Ultimately the R&D STEM Challenge is about building the next generation of leaders who can solve problems and develop new solutions in the future. Takeda is a proud supporter of the Challenge and looks forward to continuing this collaboration with ISTI in the future.

Watch and Listen

Fox32 (Good Day Chicago): Local STEM students show off their dazzling inventions





Illinois Innovation Network Featured Content:

Each month, the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition features a service or resource available to innovators and entrepreneurs in the state of Illinois on the Illinois Innovation Network. To learn more and add your resource to the Network, click here.

Yesterday, the Illinois Corporate Startup Challenge which contains ​key learnings, trends, and best practices surrounding corporate innovation and partnerships with the entrepreneurial community after holding 15 demo days with global corporations over the past 2+ years​.​  Read the report here.